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MIT staff blogger David duKor-Jackson

Parental Advice by David duKor-Jackson

Sometimes you just need to get out of the way

I have known for some time that my approach to things can be unconventional.  You don’t have to look any further than how I parent to really get a good sense of this.  There are some things that are intentional, like eschewing traditional coloring books, when my children were younger,  in favor of blank pages that forced them to create their own images without the constraints of pre-drawn lines to color inside of.  There are other things that draw their inspiration from the ether, like spontaneously reaching for the flip video camera when my son refused to eat his vegetables, and then suggesting that I might send the evidence of his misdeeds to grandma, and a certain jolly old elf that lives at the North Pole.  He always eats his vegetables now.

Try as I may, to put my kids on the right path, sometimes things go awry.  I am not perfect and neither are my children, but at the end of the day they are generally heading in the right direction.  Frequently, the hardest thing for me to do is nothing, because I have so much more life experience than my kids have and I can envision the train wreck up ahead.  There are also definitely times when my insight is neither desired nor appreciated, and sometimes even counterproductive.

Even though my kids aren’t always receptive to my counsel, one of the things that I most enjoy about my work in the admissions office is being able to share my perspective.  While I frequently have opportunities to offer guidance, I am sorry to say that I don’t always give the best advice. Case in point–there was a parent of a fourth grader (that’s right, elementary school) whose child has known for a couple of years that MIT is their college destination. As such, the parent wanted to know how best to prepare the student for admission to MIT.

I will say that I did not provide poor advice, since there are certainly things that are absolutely necessary, like coursework in calculus, physics, biology and chemistry. However, it is also true that some of the characteristics that frequently help us to determine if a student is a good match for MIT like creativity, willingness to take risks and resilience are traits that most parents would find difficult to cultivate in their children. While I did ultimately answer the parent’s questions, I focused primarily on requirements, and not the fact that the most important thing for a fourth grader to do, is to be a fourth grader.

I am reminded of an interview that I heard on public radio with Neil deGrasse Tyson, a noted astrophysicist who essentially said that the best way to raise a scientist is to stay out of the way. Kids are, by and large, naturally curious and creative. Frequently, they have no qualms about trying things, usually because they simply want to know what happens when…

Obviously, there are some lessons that parents would prefer for kids not to learn on their own, but most parents (myself included) tend to be preoccupied with planning and order. The problem with this is that scientific exploration and life in general are often spontaneous and disorderly, and our parental need for control tends to derail the organic processes of  both scientific and personal discovery.

7 responses to “Parental Advice”

  1. A must read for every anxious mom and dad! Shall make my parents read it as soon as possible smile

  2. valart says:

    Love, love, love this post! Please more blogs for parents.
    Wish I had thought of that veggie trick. “Frequently, the hardest thing for me to do is nothing, because I have so much more life experience than my kids have and I can envision the train wreck up ahead. There are also definitely times when my insight is neither desired nor appreciated, and sometimes even counterproductive.” So true.
    I discovered the MIT blogs when my son was in eighth grade and asked me for guidance when he needed to choose high school classes. He was involved in robotics, loved computers and was in advanced math and science classes in middle school. Having no background in these areas I looked up the MIT web site and read the suggested high school preparations. Who knew math was so important? I had no clue as our family is so fine arts oriented.
    It was this web site that helped me help my child. If I couldn’t get the information I needed from his school I could always ask here. The resources MIT has for pre college students such as Open Courseware, Splash, Spark and the admissions blogs are so wonderful.
    When I took him to Splash as a 9th grader he loved it so much he asked if he could skip high school and go straight to MIT. “NO, I don’t think so. Not only do you have to finish high school, you have to do exceptionally well in your classes!” Luckily he’s taken my advice.

  3. José says:

    Good post, I’ll show this to my parents, even knowing that they fully support me in a big part of my decisions.

  4. Mohammad Abuomar says:

    Hi, I’m not a parent, but I have a question and hoping you can help me. I graduated already from an international school with a B.Sc. degree in Biomedical Engineering, distinction with honor, and working now here in US. I have a dream of joining MIT for graduate study. Reviewing my current skills and the requirements, I believe I need to join undergraduate in MIT first to refresh my basic science knowledge and use the time others investing in basic stuff that I already know in gaining more knowledge in other areas or doing research (which is my ultimate goal). Is this possible at all?

    Thanks in advance…

  5. Michelle says:

    Are you automatically rejected if you don’t have calculus?

  6. Mohammad Abuomar says:

    Hi Michelle, thanks for your reply!
    You mean automatically rejected from Graduate admission? actually I didn’t try. But my undergraduate courses even have more credit hours that MIT undergrad smile including calculus for 4 quarters. I just chose to take undergrad again to get more in depth in details and get more familiar with MIT environment that is really clicking with me. So, is this possible?
    thanks again!

  7. N says:

    Im a sophomore and I really want to go to MIT and become an aerospace engineer. Problem is, I’m not very smart at all, I’m not in the least bit athletic and let’s just say I’m not monetarily astute either. Any advice would be greatly appreciated ;P